Italian physicist and philosopher Galileo once proclaimed, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” There’s no place that quote rings truer than in California Wine Country.
In late April, M’s parents flew to Lincoln from Cologne, Germany for a five week visit. In addition to spending time at Abelhaus in Lincoln, they love to travel around the U.S. every time they have a chance to visit.
On this trip, M and his parents spent 10 days driving down the Pacific coast from Portland to San Francisco. I was able to join them for the final five days. They picked me up in San Francisco and we drove north, spending a night in Napa and a few nights in Healdsburg, before heading back to Fog City.
In the span of three days, we sampled close to 50 different wines, but the most memorable tastes we enjoyed at our visit to Sonoma County’s Joseph Phelps. We’ve been Joseph Phelps wine club members since our first visit to the vineyard back in 2007. And with wine club membership comes rock star treatment.
On a mild, cloud day that hinted of rain, we were seated on the terrace at a private tasting table to sample eight of Joseph Phelps’ award-winning wines. We began with the whites—chardonnay and sauvignon blanc—before moving to their signature pinot noirs and cabs, including the famed Insignia.
Insignia is Joseph Phelps’ flagship wine, and a vintage of the Bordeaux-style blend is comprised of the vineyard’s best grapes. Insignia is recognized as one of the world’s greatest wines, and it’s certainly the best I’ve ever tasted. The 2002 vintage was named the “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator in 2005 and 2013. Rock star critic Robert Parker has awarded three perfect 100 point scores to the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages. Here’s a video of Robert Parker discussing the Insignia legacy.
We began by sampling the 2005 Insignia, a blend of 92 percent cab, 7 percent petit verdot and 1 percent merlot. The inky wine featured notes of anise, black cherry and minerals, with supple tannins and a long finish.
Next up was the 2006 Insignia, a blend of 95 percent cab and 5 percent petit verdot. The 2006 growing season began slow with wet, cool spring temps. A 10-day heat wave in July caused early ripening, and the result was a nearly opaque wine with flavors of black fruit, cocoa, minerals, coffee and cola, balanced by smooth tannins and a long, lovely finish. The good news? M bought a bottle to commemorate the year we met. The bad news? We won’t be drinking it until at least 2016.
The 2006 was supposed to be our last taste at Phelps—until they asked if we wanted to try a barrel sample of the 2012 vintage. We told them no, of course.
Just kidding! The 2012 vintage was still aging in the barrel and won’t be bottled and released until 2015. Like the other vintages we sampled, it was smooth, supple and well-balanced. We loved it so much we bought three bottles “en primeur” or as futures, which we plan to lovingly cellar for years to come.